The sounds of baseball can be heard almost all year long around the Canal District in San Rafael, originating from children playing at various local parks.
Although a popular local sport, baseball can be expensive to play due to the amount of gear that is needed, making it difficult for underprivileged children to participate.
According to NBC Bay Area, in 2012, the average income of a person living in the Canal was only $21,000, compared to the average American median salary of $29,530 and Marin’s average of $44,246.
San Rafael native Kevin Loughlin decided to make baseball more accessible through the creation of the Canal Baseball Academy.
“My goal was to give these kids an experience of playing in Little League. We all know how great it is being on a team: the pressures, agony, and the thrill of victory on Little League teams. These kids weren’t able to play because [Little League is] cost prohibitive,” Loughlin said.
Loughlin played and coached high school baseball and even helped create a baseball league within San Quentin Prison. He decided to coach in the Canal in order to give back to the community and help kids learn the fundamentals of the game.
“It’s not just about sports, it’s about teaching these kids the responsibility of getting to practices and games on time. We coach leadership and our program stresses non-bullying so we make sure kids are competitive yet are fair with the rest of the players,” Loughlin said.
The program is completely nonprofit, with all money from donors and sponsors. spent on equipment. Some donors include MarinLink, San Rafael Community Services, Junior Giants and the Rotary Club of San Rafael Harbor.
“We started the nonprofit four years ago and initially just did some local fundraising. Then we’ve been lucky enough to have donors on a yearly basis that provided up money to sponsor the 50 kids playing,” Loughlin said.
The program has run smoothly with an increase in player signups over the years. However, there are still issues that need to be addressed.
In the summer, people can volunteer at the Junior Giants camp programs. Senior Grace Willens worked at the camps over the summer. She said her reason for joining was because she thought it would be a good idea to help out people in the community who don’t have the opportunity to join Little League.
Senior Josh Katz decided he wanted to gain community service hours involving a sport he loves, leading to his involvement with Junior Giants.
“My college counselor thought it’d be a great idea for me to join the Junior Giants, knowing I love sports. So I thought I might as well go for it and I really liked it the first time I showed up,” Katz said.
Willens had done previous community service activities but found the Canal Baseball Academy unique.
“I volunteer at Ceres, where you cook nutritional food for cancer patients,” Willens said. “[Junior Giants] was more fun because I got to interact more with the kids which is something I really enjoy doing. It was more rewarding. I mean, cooking food is rewarding too, but not in the same way.”
Both Katz and Willens thought the hardest part about volunteering was the language barrier. Most kids in the Canal speak only Spanish, but this didn’t deter either of them.
This year, the program has even had some of its players join the baseball and softball programs at Terra Linda High School and San Rafael High School.
“It’s the best feeling you can have because it means they’ve fallen in love with the game, they’ve put in the time to learn the game, and the fact they’ll be meeting and working with other kids in the community,” Loughlin said. “This is the bottom line of sports: to meet other boys and girls from different cultures. They’ll be working as one team from all over San Rafael, so it helps bridge the gap the between the Hispanics in the Canal and other kids we have in the community.”
With the increasing success of the program, Loughlin wants to create similar programs in other parts of the Bay Area.
“There are over 2,000 kids that live in the Canal between ages four and 13, so there’s a lot of kids that I still haven’t reached,” Loughlin said. “Down the road though, I’d love to integrate the program to other areas of the community that might need the financial assistance and equipment that Canal Baseball Academy provides.”